The Trespasser and The Secret Place

Monday, November 21, 2016

The Trespasser
by Tana French

No one does a slow burn mystery like Tana French. I love her Dublin murder squad series so much and each time a new book comes out I am beyond excited. She doesn't just write mysteries, she writes beautiful literary fiction that happens to include a mystery. Each of the books in the series is connected but works as a standalone. 

The Trespasser gives us a glimpse into the life of Antoinette Conway, who we met in The Secret Place (book 5). She and her partner, Stephen Moran, are assigned to a murder case at the end of a long shift. They find Aislinn, a lovely young woman, murdered in her home. Rory, a boyfriend, is an obvious suspect, but they have a few other theories to follow. Throughout the investigation Conway has to fight against the prejudice of her own coworkers and her own doubts about herself.

I tried to go slow and savor the story, but I loved every second of it. The atmosphere she creates is palpable and the anxious feeling builds as we get closer to the truth. She writes the best scenes I’ve ever read of detectives interviewing their suspects.

BOTTOM LINE: I’ve yet to be disappointed by French’s work. I liked this one ever more than her last. She gets inside the mind of her characters so completely that it’s easy to forget that she switches her main character in every book!

“No one needs a relationship. What you need is the basic cop-on to figure that out, in the face of all the media bullshit screaming that you're nothing on your own and you're a dangerous freak if you disagree. The truth is, if you don't exist without someone else, you don't exist at all. And that doesn't just go for romance. I love my ma, I love my friends, I love the bones of them. If any of them wanted me to donate a kidney or crack a few heads, I'd do it, no questions asked. And if they all waved goodbye and walked out of my life tomorrow, I'd still be the same person I am today."

The Secret Place
by Tana French
The fifth book in the Dublin Murder Squad series focuses on Stephen, who we met in Faithful Place. He's desperate to join the squad. When Holly, the young girl in Faithful Place, now seven years older, gives him a tip about a murder committed in a local prep school, he sees his chance to work with the murder squad. Holly and her three best friends, Julia, Selena, and Rebecca, all become suspects. This novel flashes back and forth between Stephen and Antoinette Conway's investigation in the present and girls' point-of-view during the months leading up to the murder.

BOTTOM LINE: This one felt different from the other books because of its focus on teenage girls and their intense emotions. It wasn't my favorite in the series, but I just love French's writing. She creates tense and enthralling novels each time, even though the characters and plots are never the same.

“That long sigh again, above us. This time I saw it, moving through the branches. Like the trees were listening; like they would've been sad about us, sad for us, only they'd heard it all so many thousand times before.”

“It does that to you, being a detective. You look at blank space and see gears turning, motives and cunning; nothing looks innocent any more. Most times when you prove away the gears, the blank space looks lovely, peaceful. But that arm: innocent, it looked just as dangerous.” 


Commonwealth and Did You Ever Have a Family

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Did You Ever Have a Family                     Commonwealth
By Bill Clegg                                              by Ann Patchett
★★★★                                                       ★★★★

Sometimes you read similar books close together and can't help but compare them. It happened to me a couple years ago when I read TheLikeness and The Secret History. I enjoyed them both, but the plots were so similar. I couldn’t help but have a clear favorite.

That happened again last month when I read the novels Did You Ever Have a Family and Commonwealth back-to-back without realizing how similar they are. Both books revolve around a tragedy. In one book it happens in the present and in the other it happened in the past. Both books tell the story from the point of view of many different people who are connected to the story. Both deal with grief, loss, broken marriages, and children whose relationships with their parents are beyond complicated.

They were both excellent novels, but with different strengths. I read Did You Ever Have a Family first, so I think it had a clear advantage. I wasn’t comparing it to anything else while reading it. Once I started Commonwealth I kept thinking back to the plot of the first book. I think Commonwealth was the more beautifully written of the two. I love Patchett’s work. She creates such incredible characters with depth and complex feelings.

Clegg’s novel is centered on the events that happen the night before a wedding. The bride and groom and other family members are killed when a gas explosion destroys their house. The mother-of-the-bride is the only one to survive. We are narrowed in to see the repercussions of one event. We flash back to the past for some context, but the main focus is the ripple effect of the explosion.

In Commonwealth the tragedy isn't revealed until you’re immersed in the novel. It’s less about one big event and more about relationships. An affair kicks off the novel and the main focus is the interactions between two sets of siblings after their parents marry. We get to know the characters through decades of their lives, winding through marriages and deaths, cross-country moves and crappy jobs.  
Both are excellent character studies full of regret abandon dreams, sickness, guilt, and all the messiness of life. I love that two very different authors can craft completely unique books that feel similar because of the themes.

BOTTOM LINE: I really enjoyed both novels, but they are unintentionally tied together in my mind.

The Life We Bury

Thursday, November 10, 2016

The Life We Bury
By Allen Eskens 

Joey is a college student whose writing assignment leads him to the bedside of Carl, a dying convict. As he begins to unearth the murder mystery that put Carl behind bars, he gets more than he bargained for.

I like the mystery side of the novel, but so many of the characters were very two-dimensional to me. The Vietnam war vet, the jaded lawyer, the manic pixie girl who's too good for the boy who has a crush and is yearning for her, the alcoholic mother who is nothing but selfish and horrible, etc.

****SPOILER ALERT*********

I also had a few other major issues with the book. The one that bothered me the most is about Carl’s willingness to take the fall for a crime he didn’t commit and spend 30 years in jail. I’m supposed to believe that, and I get it, Vietnam broke him and he was ready to die. That’s not where my issue is. We are supposed to believe he was willing to go to jail for the rape and murder charge, but at the same time we're supposed to believe that he's so passionate about protecting a young girl from being raped that he's willing to commit murder (in Vietnam). Yet he doesn't realize that taking the fall for a crime he didn't commit means a murderer and raper of young girls is still out there on the loose for 30 years. That does not add up to me. He knew that the investigation would end, which meant the real killer would be from to kill and rape again. And that’s exactly what he did!

I also had an issue with the relationship between Joe and his neighbor Lila. Lila makes it very clear that she does not want to relationship, she does not want to be pursued. Joey basically sees that as a challenge and in one line he even says something about how the wall she put up just makes him want her more. That sounds like a stalker. I get that it all worked out in the end, but the relentless way that he continues to bother her, when she very clearly states no thank you, really bothered me. It's like it was sending a message that if you just love the girl enough then you deserve her. What she wants does not matter or even play into the equation.

The final major issue that I had was Joe's trip to go see Doug. He knows he's going to go visit a murderer. His entire reason for going is to try to get the murderer to confess. But he doesn't tell a single soul where he's going and then once he gets there he tells said murder that at some point in the future he will tell the police about all this. So he makes it clear that he hasn't told the police anything yet. That makes zero sense and I hate it when authors have their characters make incredibly stupid choices that put them in dangerous situations. I feel like no one in their right mind would make that choice in the real world.

BOTTOM LINE: I enjoyed the first half of the book. It went off the rails for me after that. I just felt like the characters kept doing things that contradicted their beliefs and so it took me completely out of the story.